3 resign from Auschwitz museum board over appointment of right-wing politician

Three members of the advisory council for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in Poland resigned after the government appointed a member of the country’s right-wing ruling party to serve on the body, The Associated Press reported Friday.

The Culture Ministry appointed former Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo to a four-year term on the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Council. The nine-member group of Poles meets once a year to advise the museum’s director and is separate from the International Auschwitz Council, which is made up of Holocaust survivors and experts.

Szydlo faced backlash in 2017 when she appeared to defend her conservative anti-migrant policies during a memorial observance at the former Nazi death camp. She said that “in today’s restless times, Auschwitz is a great lesson showing that everything must be done to protect the safety and life of one’s citizens.”

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She later denied that her highly-criticized remarks were about refugees.

The politician is a member of the European Parliament for the Law and Justice Party and grew up in the town of Oswiecim, where Auschwitz is located, AP noted.

Philosopher Stanislaw Krajewski was the first adviser to step down in protest to Szydlo’s appointment. He explained to the outlet that his exit was in response to the “politicization” of the group, adding that he was uncomfortable with political figures being added. 

“It’s hard to say what would happen, but it would change the nature of the body very considerably,” Krajewski said. “I don’t want to be on the same council with a major politician of the ruling party today.”

He pointed to the Law and Justice effort aimed to building national pride in the nation’s past. The outlet noted that the party, which took power in 2015, used museums, state media and other tools to push a patriotic vision of Poland highlighting resistance against German occupation. Some critics say the initiative was historical whitewashing and a distorted version the past.

“The fear is that this would be another move in the direction of making also the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum part of their historical policy,” Krajewski said of Syzdlo's appointment. 

Other members also left, including historians Marek Lasota, who also belongs to the ruling party, and Krystyna Oleksy, a former deputy director of the Auschwitz Museum.